The Seattle Seahawks weren't worried about losing CEO Tod Leiweke to the NHL until the Tampa Bay Lightning offered an ownership stake in the team.
The Lighting made the ownership offer and Leiweke could not resist, taking a CEO job with equity in the team in a move announced Monday.
Leiweke's departure from his role over the Paul Allen-owned Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Sounders has the potential, at its worst, to destabilize those franchises. But the Seahawks said Leiweke would stay onboard to help choose a successor and if that is the case, the organization can come out of this OK. Leiweke's involvement in hiring a replacement is critical because Allen's other advisers have proved less skilled in the processes used to identify management talent.
Leiweke leaves a strong legacy despite the Seahawks' recent on-field struggles and their front-office implosion earlier this offseason. Former coach Mike Holmgren has called Leiweke the best thing to happen to the organization. And while I suspected Holmgren sometimes intended the statement as a dig toward former team president Tim Ruskell, Leiweke was indeed a person the organization could trust. He always had the Seahawks' best interests in mind and he knew how to build a brand.
The Seahawks already had their new stadium when Leiweke arrived in June 2003, but their season-ticket base was around 30,000 and the organization had not reconnected with its fan base following Ken Behring's tumultuous ownership run. Allen, despite good intentions, didn't enjoy success as Seahawks owner until Leiweke came aboard. That was not a coincidence. Leiweke's people skills and business sense made an immediate impact.
Leiweke overhauled the business side of the Seahawks' organization and changed the team's marketing focus. The team became friendlier, for sure, and the results are easily quantified. The Seahawks expect to have 62,000 season-ticket holders for the 2010 season after making available additional tickets beginning last week. Leiweke has similarly remade the Blazers' image after taking control of that organization in 2007. Separately, the Sounders quickly became profitable under his watch.
Those three Leiweke-operated franchises -- the Seahawks, Blazers and Sounders -- have enjoyed a combined 201 consecutive sellouts under his watch, according to a news release.
It's not yet clear who Leiweke might suggest as a replacement. Chief operating officer John Rizzardini could be a logical choice if the team makes a hire from within. Senior vice president and general counsel Lance Lopes helped coordinate the hiring of Pete Carroll from USC, so his name might be worth keeping in mind.
Making the wrong hire could undermine the legacy Leiweke has built. In the short term, it could undermine Carroll and new general manager John Schneider. The Seahawks and their fans can feel better about Leiweke's successor if Leiweke himself signs off on the hiring.